Estonia achieves absolute radar coverage

Risto Mets
, reporter
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No escaping now for flying objects 500 kilometres away and 30 kilometres high, thanks to radar station towering on top of Tõikamäe Hill in Otepää Nature Park. Hereby, Estonia’s entire air traffic is guarded nice and tight.

The tests got going in the fall but now the radar works full power, said radar post commander Lieutenant Kalle Oruaas. With Tõikamägi at more than 200 metres above sea level, and the radar mast 35 metres high, the device can also detect objects flying low. The picture provided is in direct link with large Air Force headquarters in Lithuania and Germany.

The station features some two dozen of staff. Some are air force, but the bulk is guards from Defence League – mostly local guys.

Radar rides elevator

No traditional ribbon cutting here. Instead, defence minister Sven Mikser, Commander of the Defence Forces Riho Terras, Finnish defence ministry chancellor Arto Räty and radar post chief Kalle Oruaas grabbed forceps to cut... quite a cable. Thereby, a largest military object to be established in South-Estonia was festively and officially opened.

The structure as such was subject to lengthy debate and controversy, as erected on Natura area. Asked if the sacrifice was worth it, defence minister Sven Mikser said it was vital for Estonia and allies for the picture to be complete. «It is no secret that our security situation is quite intense. Thus, it is important to know that nothing and no-one is flying not within Estonian borders alone but also behind them.»

He added the Defence Forces have tried their best to bother the locals as little as possible, and for maximal benefit. He also said the radar costing €11.5m can be swiftly replaced. On the inside, the radar post is one big elevator shaft. The mighty machine sits on a platform, easy to lift and lower. Mr Mikser said they plan to take the radar down, for a little while, in February – so it can attend the Anniversary of the Republic parade in Narva.

The next in line, Defence Forces are intending to modernise the Kellavere radar. After that, the radar picture will be complete with no blind spots whatsoever. To build the radar station, some €7.5m of money was spent.

Village folks get gift

For the ceremony, local people had not failed to show up. «Well we are reconciled to this... Happy? Well that’s another issue,» admitted Pilkuse village elder Miia Pallase.

In the beginning, the people dwelling in Otepää Nature Park were rather agitated: to build anything on their lots, red tape abounds. And now the state just up and erects this huge thing on Natura area, an object absolutely unbefitting for a place like this. «We were also upset as being notified so late in the building process,» confessed Ms Pallase.

After a string of meetings with defence ministry staff, the people gradually relented. «Well we do realise the radar is needed for all of Estonia,» said Ms Pallase. As a compromise, it was agreed that the ministry would dig into its pockets and build a cycle/pedestrian track up to the driveway of the radar station now part of their village. The track is yet to appear, but Ms Pallase still hopes the state will keep its word.

The locals were also anxious to know if the radar would raise background radiation. According to Health Board measurements, the thing appears to rather diminish the radiation now that it operates. As to wattage, the radar has been compared to an ordinary mobile telephone mast.